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Right now we aren't sitting this close … but the arts can still bring us TOGETHER
At the heart of Blumenthal’s mission is bringing people together – something that is needed now more than ever. Recent months have been among the most tumultuous in our nation’s history, demonstrating the urgent need for honest conversations about race and social justice as well as taking action to create a more equitable and inclusive future.

Artists are in a unique position to lead the way by building awareness, promoting understanding and inspiring change. Blumenthal is dedicated to creating space for these important conversations – listening and learning from our community in spite of the pandemic, which has made it challenging to fulfill this essential role.

"In the midst of the demonstrations that took place, not just in Charlotte but all across the country, I think a lot of us at Blumenthal felt this immense frustration that because of the COVID closures, we weren’t able to be a part of the conversation at a critical time,” says Blumenthal President and CEO Tom Gabbard.

“And there was so much about what was happening there that obviously was in our wheelhouse. There is so much that I think a lot of us don’t know about the history of racism. There are things that many of us don’t know about policing issues, about justice issues. And so, beyond the conversation about how we respond as a community, there’s a huge amount of education that needs to happen, to be facilitated. All of those are right at the core of our mission – to convene people, to educate, to talk about things."
Boris "Bluz" Rogers performs during the Juneteenth Poetry Slam at Spirit Square.
One of Gabbard’s first priorities was finding a way for local poets to be heard and to provide some perspective on what was happening. SlamCharlotte, the three-time national slam poetry champion, has long called Blumenthal home. The two organizations partnered to create outdoor events on the plaza at Spirit Square beginning on Juneteenth.

The free events respect the mandated public health guidelines limiting outdoor gatherings to 25 people, enforce social distancing protocols, and practice safety measures by continually cleaning microphones and providing dedicated equipment for each poet. The events also are streamed via Facebook Live to reach a wider audience.

Poets are often called upon to reflect on the emotions and atmosphere surrounding current events, says Boris "Bluz" Rogers, who serves as the team’s slam master. Civil rights and social injustice are frequent topics because, unfortunately, these issues persist, but performing outside is unique. “That microphone amplifies the voices so they’re echoing down the streets and around uptown for all people to hear it,” he says.
Chelsea Karpeh
In July, Blumenthal presented
“Be the Change: A Virtual Benefit Show for Campaign Zero and NAACP Charlotte-Mecklenburg.”
This inspiring evening, featuring 16 local artists, explored issues of race and social justice through music, dance and spoken word. Musician Chelsea Karpeh, who had just begun a new position in Blumenthal’s ticketing services department, reached out to Gabbard with the idea after reading a message Gabbard sent out to staff regarding the George Floyd incident."

I really appreciated Tom’s statement because it wasn’t just vague, and it didn’t seem like it was pandering just because of what was happening in the news,” says Karpeh. “The message felt sincere and genuine. And so I felt like he would be a person to really care about what we were doing.”

Gabbard was immediately on board. The event took place at McGlohon Theater and Blumenthal’s programming staff helped Karpeh connect with other local artists to join  those  already lined up for the project.
“You can go through some horrible things in life and if you don’t know how to process the emotion and learn to articulate your experiences, then they still control you ... the arts give us the skill to articulate.”
Bree Stallings

Multimedia Artist and Activist
Bree Stallings
The Arts Open Dialogue, Help Healing
Multimedia artist and activist Bree Stallings is one of four local artists leading the way on production of a new Blumenthal initiative, “We Are Hip Hop.”

“You can go through some horrible things in life and if you don’t know how to process the emotion and learn to articulate your experiences, then they still control you,” she says. “But once you learn how to articulate those things, then you have power over the experiences ... the arts give us the skill to articulate.”

The arts also spark conversation among audience members and can bring diverse groups of people together to share their truths.
Greg Jackson
“I believe, whether it’s a two-hour play or it’s a 40-minute album, or if it’s a piece that you’re going to look at at a gallery, there’s a certain amount of empathy that is built through the arts that people can relate to, that people can feel,” says Greg Jackson, a former rapper and leader during the 2016 Keith Lamont Scott protests, who subsequently channeled his activism into creating the non-profit Heal Charlotte. The organization  supports youth and families and works to build bridges between citizens, the police and elected officials. Jackson has also recently come on board as creative consultant for Blumenthal, tapping into his past performing experiences and his network of contacts, through which he hopes to uplift local talent.

SLIDE SHOW: Performers and a crowd celebrate Juneteenth with a Poetry Slam event at Spirit Square.

Vital work is taking place behind the scenes too. Blumenthal is part of a collective of local arts organizations now engaged in monthly conversations advocating change and accountability through the Diversity On & Off Stage initiative. A first Zoom call was held in July and served as a listening and sharing session. 

“We wanted to amplify Black voices and we wanted companies to hear what creatives were experiencing in their cities,” says Tiffany Bryant-Jackson, who moderated the conversation. She’s a Blumenthal employee and founder of Open Cage Productions. “These are your musicians, your actors, your singers ... you can’t be like ‘oh, that’s happening in New York … that doesn’t affect us in Charlotte.’ But it does. So, the very first thing was allowing people the space to tell their stories, what has happened to them in Charlotte that affects their ability to grow and prosper in the arts.”
“We wanted to amplify Black voices and we wanted companies to hear what creatives were experiencing in their cities.”
Tiffany Bryant-Jackson

Founder of Open Cage Productions
Blumenthal's Commitment
There’s a long journey ahead as communities work through many difficult issues, but Blumenthal intends to play a pivotal role in enabling artists to help us make sense of it all.

“I think artists really appreciate that, when a big organization or institution offers help in what they’re doing,” says Rogers, noting that it’s not about taking something over, but in sharing resources. That can take many forms – whether it’s providing performance space or creative platforms, highlighting the work of local artists through collaborations or bringing artists and programming into different neighborhoods.
by Liz Rothaus Bertrand
Healing and Creating Change Through the Arts